Yesterday, award-winning translator and teacher Farouk Abdel Wahab Mustafa — who sometimes used the pen name Farouk Abdel Wahab — passed away following a short illness. He was 70:
Farouk Mustafa was born in Tanta, Egypt, and grew up in Tanta and in Cairo. He did his initial studies at the University of Cairo, after which he moved to the University of Minnesota, where he completed his Ph.D. But even before he had finished at the U of M, Mustafa joined the University of Chicago, where he taught for nearly forty years.
Mustafa has made great and vivid contributions to Arabic literary translation, from his 1974 anthology Modern Egyptian Drama to translations of Ibrahim Abdel Meguid’s Birds of Amber, The Other Place, and No One Sleeps in Alexandria; Gamal el-Ghitani’s Zayni Barakat,The Zafarani Files, and Book of Epiphanies; Hala el Badry’s A Certain Woman; and Bahaa Taher’s Love in Exile, among other works. Mustafa also translated into Arabic, bringing into the language Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV.
In 2007, Mustafa was recognized with the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Khairy Shalaby’s The Lodging House, of which judge Roger Allen said, “The translation is a brilliant exercise in the transfer of both literal meaning and nuance into the context of another language’s culture – no mean feat.”
That same year, he told journalist Mayya Jaggi: “Whether you think it’s going to be a ‘clash’ or a ‘dialogue’ of civilisations,” he says, “we have to know what the rest of the world is doing and thinking, and nothing expresses that better than literature.”
Mustafa was also a beloved teacher. The Director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Fred Donner, noted in a public statement that Mustafa “was for almost forty years the mainstay of our Arabic teaching program at Chicago, and life here will not be the same without his dedicated teaching and larger-than-life presence.”
A number of students, colleagues, and friends have left public tributes on Farouk Mustafa’s Facebook wall. Esra Tasdelen, in her public tribute, writes, “But most of all, I remember you in the classroom, teaching us, showing us how the Arabic language works in mysterious but beautiful ways. In the classroom was where you truly belonged, and flourished.”
Friends and colleagues remember him as one of the great, patient teachers, as a collector of jokes, as a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, and as a passionate lover of literature.
Arabic literature scholar Margaret Litvin posted, “He used to say every Arab intellectual was one part Hamlet, one part Jesus Christ, and one part Don Quixote. I’ll miss the Quixote the most! Goodbye, dear Farouk.”
From The Lodging House.
“Fist Fight,” (page 288), also from The Lodging House